A current exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, “Mummies of the World,” contains over 40 mummies and a number of artifacts related to these discoveries. In the official exhibition catalog, it states that the goal of the exhibit “is to advance the relevance of anthropology in ancient global cultures, and to provide visitors with an educational and scientific window into the cultures, history, and lives of the people who came before us.”
More importantly, however, is the recognition of the “demand that human remains are treated with respect and dignity, taking in account the interests and beliefs of the social, ethical, and religious groups from which the human remains originate.” In a recent conversation on a related subject, I had occasion to consider the earliest known instance of spiritual inclinations in the history of our species.
Mesopotamia. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 10 Jul. 2011. .
Since writing was invented in Mesopotamia, Mesopotamian religion is often considered to be the oldest faith in written history, even though there is some evidence of mythologies and cultural practices of shamanism in the fossil records dating some 40,000 years ago.
From an article in Wikipedia:
“What we know about Mesopotamian religion comes from archaeological evidence uncovered in the region, particularly literary sources, which are usually written in cuneiform on clay tablets and which describe both mythology and cultic practices. However, other artifacts can also be used as the Mesopotamians’ “entire existence was infused by their religiosity, just about everything they have passed on to us can be used a source of knowledge about their religion.” (Bottéro, Jean (2001). Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.)”
While it seems clear that our ancient ancestors were, in many cases, trying to arrive at answers to the unexplained phenomena of their epoch, and also to establish some semblance of order in the early settlements and cities, the search for an understanding of existence itself has been at the heart of that search, and fueled the development of the various spiritual practices throughout human history. In our 21st century world, much of the superstition and ancient mythology that developed in those early beginnings have become simply footnotes in the historical records of humanity, but the search for a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of our existence remains as one of the driving forces behind much of the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual movements of our time.
My own inclinations, after many years of pursuing the study of our subjective experience of human consciousness, while acknowledging the important distinctions between spirit and matter, more importantly emphasize their interdependence on a fundamental level. It is my contention that consciousness provides humanity with access to an aspect of our nature not explicable in terms of sense experience alone, and that it represents a reality which exists in parallel with the world of matter, but in a wholly separate realm—unobservable in temporal terms—but still an essential component of a comprehensive understanding. It seems apparent to me that matter is a manifestation of the spirit; an expression in the temporal, three dimensional world of a reality that is foundational and essential to the world of matter.